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World War Z: First Impressions & Marc Forster on the Zombie Epic

If a filmmaker (besides George Romero) – back in the late-’70s/early-’80s – had said they were setting out to make a big budget, large-scale zombie film, Hollywood would have laughed.  And for a number of reasons.  For one, Romero had the zombie market cornered.  Who would attempt to match the intellectual quality he had thrust on the portrayal of a zombie apocalypse?  Secondly, Hollywood wasn’t exactly throwing money at zombie-fueled entertainment back then.  Moreover, Hollywood wasn’t too thrilled with the violence in the zombie films that were being made.

The climate has certainly shifted, however, and “zombies” today mean dollar signs.  Flesh-eating – once an on-screen taboo – is pretty accepted these days and the undead no longer shoulder any sort of stigma.  There is no bigger example of this than the existence of the largest studio-funded zombie project ever: World War Z.  Based on the novel by Max Brooks and starring Brad Pitt (also wielding a producer credit), the film is a globe-trotting adventure set in the middle of a zombie outbreak and ShockTillYouDrop.com received a 20-minute preview of the Marc Forster-directed film.

“I wanted to make a film that my sons could actually see before they get old and as you will see, we got a little carried away,” Pitt told a small audience of select press members before showing off the footage.  “I hope you enjoy as much as my boys are, they’re going to love it.”  (In case you were wondering, this is going to be a PG-13 zombie film.)

That said, the footage revealed – a mish-mash of large story and action beats – re-ignited my curiosity after following the stories of delays and additional shooting.

One scene found Pitt’s character – Gerry Lane of the United Nations – and his family sitting in traffic in downtown Philadelphia.  Yes, the sequence we’ve seen in the trailers.  But this took the action further than we’ve witnessed before.  Something is causing a disturbance in the streets, Lane gets out of his car and an explosion erupts just a few blocks away.  This chaos is compounded by a garbage truck – driven by someone clearly “infected” – careening down the street, hammering idle cars out of the way and clearing a path.  Lane sees this as an opportunity to drive his family out of traffic and to safety, so he guns it, driving his family through the path in traffic until they’re struck by another car.  The Lane family escapes from their vehicle and is swept into a crowd of fleeing people.  Fleeing from what?  Zombies, of course.  The vicious “running and leaping” kind.

The scene is notable because it represents just how fast the infection spreads.  Lane’s daughter has some sort of stuffed bear that counts out loud.  She drops the bear and Lane scoops it up, squeezing it accidentally and setting the bear off, its voice chip beginning to count.  As this occurs, he watches someone gets bitten and, as they turn, we hear the bear counting away, “1…2…3…4…” and so on. So, while Pitt is trying to get his family to safety, he’s listening and observing this person change in the span of a matter of 12 seconds.  And then they’re up and fully zombified, ready to feed.

In another sequence we were shown, Lane and his family are aboard an aircraft carrier.  Here, Lee and a bunch of military types are monitoring the spread of the zombie infection and Lee is being tasked with finding “patient zero.”  If he refuses those duties, he and his family will be booted from the aircraft carrier and sent home.  Obviously, this doesn’t happen because we next find Lane in a whopper of an action sequence – one hinted at the trailers as well.  

Lane is whisked off to a portion of Israel that has been “walled off” to keep its residents safe from zombies.  This wall is breached – regardless of the armed military force surrounding it – when the zombies pile on top of one another like ants, spilling into the town.  Some land onto the ground below and are immobilized.  Others are injured, but continue to crawl onward.  Others land effortlessly and keep on running until they find a victim to feed upon.  Lane is caught up in this mess, naturally.  The soldiers protecting him are ordered to escort him to a helicopter landing site, but getting there is difficult. I don’t really want to go blow-by-blow through this scene because there are plenty of “oh shit!” moments, however, someone gets their hand chopped off after getting bitten (it’s a rather bloodless affair) and Lane and company miss their rendezvous point and are forced to improvise.

Overall, a great scene.  My one concern – beyond the lack of gore/bloodshed – is the action and how Forster executes the rest of the zombie attacks.  The undead truly are a force of nature here, moving in waves.  In a crowd sequence, it’s difficult to make out anything in the madness.  Remember that scene in 28 Days Later when one of the survivors was detailing an outbreak on a dock?  Obviously, Danny Boyle couldn’t execute that scene on film due to budget, but in World War Z, we’re seeing that level of panic and fast-spreading violence brought to life.  

I’m impressed by the scope of it all.  

I just hope there’s something to the zombies here that separates them from the 28 Days Later/Dawn of the Dead remake pack.  Following the presentation, director Forster stepped out to take questions from the press; read on for the most detailed Q&A about the film yet…